Friday, May 28, 2010

The Lady Emma

Calhoun's Can(n)ons for May 29, 2010

She left this world with the gentle dignity that one of her grand station requires. At least that’s the story she would prefer. Actually, things did get a bit messy in the last few hours, but by that time she was unconscious and anyway, Ladies don’t acknowledge such bodily failures. That’s what servants are for.

When I first saw her eleven years ago, she was being fostered by the then-Director of Animal Services. The story had it that she was a champion whippet out of San Francisco who had been dumped by her breeder and had run through a series of homes rather quickly due to her acute separation anxiety issues. I knew in my home she’d never be alone, though it initially took her a few shrieking, frantic moments when I went out the front door for her to to remember to look around to see all the other dogs staring at her and so calm down.

It was then, of course, her true predicament became clear. Jane Austin would have understood perfectly. Lady Emma was like an aristocrat fallen on hard times, down on her uppers and forced to take a position as governess in the shabby household of a greengrocer and his brood of thuggish Basenjis in a slovenly hovel where she would be forced to give lessons all day and sleep in the garret at night. It was simply too horrible to contemplate.

Once she settled in, it became clear she had been abused in her earlier life and was extremely reluctant to be handled or touched in anyway and viewed the other dogs with distain bordering on horror, (which is the only way to view Basenjis anyway), so she initially became a white ghost, swanning gracefully around the house on her own schedule and keeping to her own path. But she soon calmed down and became a rather retiring member of the pack, both hanging back and wanting to join in. Eventually, she slipped into her own quiet pattern, shyly coming for brief pats and head-rubs and as the years passed, she watched the arrival of new puppies and the passing of the old timers with her huge, soft brown eyes, her dignity and reserve folded around her like an ermine cloak.

And through the years she did not have a day sick that I can remember. Her only trip to the vet was caused early on when she objected vigorously with bared fangs to one of the Basenjis trying to steal her chewie and got a slash on her head for her troubles. She never made that mistake again. Neither did the Basenji. He found out that aristocrats may look like soft pushovers but when challenged over their rightful ownership of things, they hide a spine of steel behind that foppish exterior. Emma, with her soft sleek white and tan coat and huge liquid dark eyes may have looked like a Lady, but she had the steely determination of a Panzer commander. Tangle with her at your peril.

She must have been sixteen when she began her slow decline – fading away into thin old lady mode, eating regularly but just getting more and more frail. And a bit dotty about remembering where she was and where the back door was when it came time to pee, which occasioned keeping the mop handy since, like all old people, bladder insufficiency required many, many trips throughout the day and night, not all of them successfully negotiated. And she would regularly get herself stuck in corners or one time managed to thrash and jamb herself under the bookcase behind the dog beds. When I returned home to find her she was in a total state of the vapors and took to her bed for days. I figured then that her collapse would signal the end but after a few days rest, she rallied. Panzer commanders are not easily defeated by bookcases.

At seventeen, her guestimated age, she finally went down. Worn out, struck with a brief bout of diarrhea, her system shut down, she quickly slipped into unconsciousness and a day later, while I sat with her telling her what a good girl she had been, she died. No muss. No fuss. Exactly how an aristocrat would handle this whole messy business of dying.

And instead of wishing her soul into vast green fields under a blazing sky, for The Lady Emma, there can only be one heaven: a restoration to her rightful baronial estates with liveried footmen to wait upon her, manicured lawns to run across while reveling in her whippety speed, a jeweled collar for her neck and a warm fire and down-stuffed satin cushions to sleep upon, forever and ever.

And not a Basenji in sight.


Patrick O'Hannigan said...

Beautiful, Ann. Thank you.

jillian said...

How lucky she was to find you and live out her years without abuse. As my Mom always commented, if there's such a place as an afterlife, she wanted to come back as one of her own pets.

joey said...


Your words are soft to the touch. Your reverence for this little person give me hope for the human race. I am about to lose my champion I'm afears- 16 yrs old and the medicine isn't working anymore- he can't walk on his own- with my knees and back I am having a hard time being his legs!

You are a great writer. You are a great human. woof.

joey xoxo

Churadogs said...

Joey. I'm so sorry to hear your wonderful dog is at the end of his journey. It's never easy but they always somehow let you know when it's time and then the most loving thing you can do is ease their suffering. It's often the very last gift of love we can give them. And it always hurts like hell.

mom said...

i am weeping with sadness and love and admiration for your ability to describe your lovely lady emma.

you made me love her intensely. i miss her and i never met her. and you put her in her perfect heaven.


Sandra Gore said...

Lovely words, Ann. I know these are painful times for you. So many losses recently...

lisa schicker said...

what a sweet photo you chose to match your tribute to this lovely member of your family - my heart goes out to you Ann, thank you for writing such wonderful words to touch us all.... sending you love and compassion from lisa

Ann said...

. . . and you have been a most loving and devoted servant. I sure hope there's an "Ann" in her heaven, too.

Bev. De Witt-Moylan said...

From now on it will be impossible to think of the name, Emma, without "The Lady..." coming first. A lovely, fitting piece for a very "Good Girl."

I can only hope that when I die someone sends me of with even half as good a eulogy.

FOGSWAMP said...

A loving well said tribute to the passing of Lady Emma.

I would think that canine lovers worldwide are in mourning at the news that a bug-eyed Chinese crested hairless pooch, who was officially crowned last June as the "Worlds Ugliest Dog", has died at age 17.

The lovable Miss Ellie, whose lopsided tongue always stuck out of the side of her mouth, died Tuesday in her Tennessee home according to the local daily newspaper "Mountain Press" on June 4.

Despite being blind in her final years, she won Animal Planet's "Worlds Ugliest Dog" award last year. She also starred in Animal Planet's 101 and was featured in numerous commercials and television.

She was all set to travel to California this month to defend her title.

Rescued by her owner Dawn Goehring when she was seven years old Miss Ellie, who drew smiles with the shock of blond hair above her eyes, had helped raise more that $l00,000 for the Humane Society of the Tennessee Valley.

Churadogs said...

HOORAY for Miss Ellie! I have a friend who adopted one of the fuzzy/haired versions of the Chinese Cresteds and they're the sweetest dogs!Well, bless Miss Ellie.